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Twins readying new home

As the Twins' time in the Metrodome winds down, Steve Aschburner tours the new ballpark and remembers the old:

    Now, despite what Al Gore and his legions might tell you, the climate in Minnesota hasn't changed nearly enough since the Dome opened in 1982. Last we checked, the Twins play 350 miles northwest of Milwaukee, where a canopy on wheels shelters crowds from any storms. Last we checked, too, the World Series is scheduled this year to push into November. "A retractable roof would have cost $150 million and up to do," Twins president Dave St. Peter told me recently, while giving a personal tour of the new park. "Our owners already have put nearly $200 million into the project. The county had no interest in funding a roof. So based on the lack of state participation, our best alternative was to build Target Field without a roof." --snip--
    "Rain, we can handle that," he said. "It's more an issue of climate. But we're getting soft in Minnesota. I expect to get as many fans complaining about the heat, missing the air conditioning in the Dome, as I do the cold.

    "We are going to play more day games. I don't think there's any clamor to put a roof on Wrigley Field, and the fact is, there are crummy days in April at Wrigley Field. There will be crummy days in April at Target Field. But there will be beautiful days, too."

The comparisons to Milwaukee and Chicago can take you only so far, as those cities are both by Lake Michigan and all its wacky weather. But, yeah: There are going to be some cold April evenings in Minneapolis, and a fair number of empty seats (after the first season in the new place, anyway). Even aside from the money, though, there are costs associated with a retractable roof. For one thing, nobody's yet build a baseball stadium with a retractable roof that feels as open as a stadium without one. It could be done -- probably for more than $150 million -- but it hasn't. And for another, when you've got a retractable roof it's often too tempting to use it, even when not strictly necessary. It took years for the Mariners to stop using their roof at just the slightest hint of a cool mist or an unpleasant (to some) breeze off Puget Sound.
Obviously, even given the meteorological concerns, just about everyone's looking forward to the new digs. Which isn't to say there's nothing negative about the Twins' move across town ...

    The Dome has been rightly blasted through the years for all manner of insults to the national pastime: The spongy turf that turned singles into triples, a lack of air conditioning in the debut 1982 season that lent a sauna atmosphere to games and, with the hot air elevating 191 home runs in 81 games, a "Homerdome" nickname that stuck. There were the industrial-strength blowers used to keep the fabric roof aloft, and a stadium worker's admission that he switched them on and off for a while in an attempt to manipulate the Twins' offensive prowess. Balls in play clanged off loudspeakers or got lost by outfielders in the ceiling rather than the sun.

    For all its affronts, though, the Metrodome hosted moments that Target Field will be hard-pressed to duplicate. The Twins, through the All-Star break, had gone 1,193-1015 in the monochrome building since it opened, including a 372-243 home mark since manager Ron Gardenhire took over in 2002. They have won six division titles while calling it home, with two AL pennants. Their World Series titles both owed much to the Dome, from its alien feel for St. Louis (1987) and Atlanta (1991) to the deafening crowd noise; the Twins won all eight Series games played in the Dome and lost all six on the road.

    "Hopefully," Gardenhire told reporters early this season, "when we get our new stadium, we'll find a way to make [opponents] not want to come to that place, too."

Teams that play in freaky ballparks -- the Twins, the Rockies, the Red Sox, the Padres -- tend to have larger-than-normal differences between their home and road records. This might be a home advantage and a road disadvantage, as was the case for many years for the Rockies. I don't see why it has to be, though. My guess is that whatever home advantage the Twins lose in their home ballpark, they will not gain by playing better on the road.
If that's the case, they'll have to play better -- fundamentally better -- just to stay roughly where they've been, record-wise. That's a tall order, but of course their new ballpark is supposed to bring higher revenues and the related ability to compete financially with their competition.

In the end, everything probably comes out in the wash. But nobody should pretend the organization won't lose something when it finally leaves that big old barn of a building.